Female Documentarians, Journalists Under Increased Threat in Iran + Israel

While the war has pulled focus on media suppression to Ukraine and Russia, journalists in the Middle East have experienced a worrying uptick in repression and state-sponsored violence since the start of May. In Iran, at least four female documentarians and one photo journalist were arrested as part of an apparent attempt to tamp down on coverage of recent protests over the skyrocketing price of consumer goods. Three days later, in the occupied West Bank, a much-beloved Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was gunned down by the Israeli army which apparently opened fire on a small group of journalists.

Four of the documentarians and journalists arrested and detained in Iran on Friday. They are (l-r) Shilan Saadi, Reyhaneh Taravati, Mina Keshavarz, Firouzeh Khosravani.

The arrests in Iran have been met with condemnation from Iranian actors and film directors, who voiced their opinions in an open letter, as well as from the the Committee To Protect Journalists, which called for an immediate end to the imprisonment and harassment of female journalists in the country. Two of the more prominent documentarians Mina Keshavarz (The Art Of Living In Danger, 2020) and Firouzeh Khosravani (Radiograph of a Family, 2020) have been temporarily released on bail and have also received support from the International Coalition For Filmmakers At Risk (ICFR). The two lesser known filmmakers Parisa Anvari, and Shilan Saadi (An Alley Behind Our House, 2011) remain in prison, uncharged. Freelance Photojournalist Reihane Taravati was also arrested on May 6 in Tehran, had her house and studio raided, her devices and equipment confiscated, according to reporting from Human Rights Activist News Agency and exiled Iranian journalist Negar Mortazavi. The arrests come after more than 100 Kurdish Iranian activists, writers, artists, and social media influencers were evidently warned not to cover recent protests by Iranian intelligence. However, CPJ contextualizes the arrests as part of an ongoing effort to silence independent journalists, particularly women. This view is supported by Reporters Without Borders, which identified Iran as the world’s biggest jailer of female journalists in 2019.

The death of beloved Al-Jazeera news correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot while doing her job covering an Israeli military action, caused a public outpouring of grief and anger among Palestinians. Abu Akleh was standing in a group of four journalists, all wearing press vests, when she was gunned down by the Israeli army, according to her surviving colleagues.

Less than a week after the arrests in Iran, on May 11 Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli Defence Forces while doing her job. Her colleague Ali al-Samoudi was also shot in the back but is in stable condition. According to Al Jazeera, the two reporters were standing with a small group of journalists all sporting Press vests when they were shot. Al-Samoudi and the other journalists present say they were on the scene to film an Israeli army operation and were shot without being asked to leave or stop filming. All maintain there were no Palestinian fighters present when the two reporters were shot, directly contradicting an Israeli statement suggesting Palestinians were responsible. Shatha Hanaysha, a local journalist who was standing next to Abu Akleh during the assault said that the group of journalists had been directly targeted. If the IDF is responsible, the murder will fit into a larger pattern of attacks on the press in Palestine. According to the Palestine Journalism Syndicate, Israel has killed more than 50 Palestinian journalists since 2001, and more than 144  have been injured in the last 4 years. Moreover, growing anger and a less than optimal track record of investigating its own crimes have prompted increased calls for an external investigation of Israel’s culpability in the incident. A Palestinian-American journalist born and raised in Jerusalem, Abu Akleh had been working as an Al Jazeera correspondent, reporting on human rights abuses in occupied Palestinian territory since 1997. She gained notoriety for her coverage of the 2000 uprising that would define Israeli-Palestinian relations for the next 20 years. Her voice resonated with her audience, at least in part, because she lived the stories she reported on. Her funeral procession was the largest public outpouring since the 2004 death of PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and was interrupted as Israeli police attacked mourners, nearly causing pallbearers to drop Abu Akleh’s coffin. In addition to the substance of her reporting, Abu Akleh was a role model for many aspiring journalists in the region, particularly young women. To learn more about Shireen Abu Akleh and her work, see this short on Al Jazeera.

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